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Almost Human
A Veterinarian Mystery
by Lillian M. Roberts

Fawcett Gold Medal Books
Paperback $5.99 ($6.99 Canadian)

Reviewed by Therese Greenwood

A nicely crafted read with enough characters to create some suspense, this book's most outstanding feature is not plot but rather the main plot device -- an amateur sleuth whose real job is as a veterinarian.

Author Lillian M. Roberts, herself a veterinarian, takes most of the romance out of the animal business -- emphasis on the business part -- by giving us an inside look at the day-to-day running of a vet clinic, medicine's poor cousin. With the mounting expenses, fussy and uncaring clients, and of course the amateur sleuthing, there's no time for baby talk with the animals at Dr. Doolittle's Pet Care Center. In fact, Roberts also refuses to romanticize the pets themselves. For example, a chimp, a potentially vicious animal able to "rip apart the room and everyone in it," is rigorously trained with a shock collar and the vet approves 100 percent.

While the animals are treated with a healthy dose of reality, the book's heroine Palm Springs animal doctor Andi Pauling still likes them better than people. Pauling's ambivalent feelings about humanity extend to her business partner, Trinka, with whom "veterinary medicine is the only thing we have in common," and boyfriend Clay, a good-looking cowboy who may not be giving her enough wide open spaces.

But Pauling's lack of human contact leaves her alienated when wealthy Gilda Hopkins, dying a lingering, agonizing death from cancer, asks her to put her out of her misery. Pauling can't say no right off the bat -- she watched her own mother face an agonizing death from cancer -- but when someone takes Gilda at her word she finds herself looking at criminal charges.

Who killed Gilda? A family member, a friend, a sympathetic home care nurse? Or is it Dr. Andi Pauling after all? How will she solve the mystery? With a baby chimpanzee and two high-strung owners to take care of, she's got little time for monkeying around.

edcom: Amost Human is the third book in the Andi Pauling series. Ms. Roberts has also written a nonfiction book, EMERGENCY VET.

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